Checking In

This is a piece I wrote for the curious users on StartingStrength.com. You can view it HERE.

Taken in Afghanistan, 2018

A handful of years ago content on 70’s Big was hard to come by. You fine folk have been asking where I’ve gone ever since, and now I finally choose to let you know in the face of extraordinary circumstances. I am a United States Army Special Forces soldier, also known as a Green Beret. Ever since I put on the hat, I poured myself into this job in order to prepare for and participate in war. I wanted to kill people that deserve to be killed, save people that deserved to be saved (medically), and free people that deserve to be freed. And I did all of those things on my first deployment along with all kinds of combat and near-death experiences. I don’t think I’m cool; it’s more that I’m lucky to have been in a handful of fire fights and done things in order to live through them.  I assure you, there are much finer men than me who have been in much more combat and done much better things than I have.

While there were exciting times, there were others full of terrible loss. There are much finer men than me who have been in much more combat and done much better things than I have. I don’t think I’m cool; it’s more that I’m lucky to have been in a handful of fire fights and done things in order to live through them.

While there were exciting times on the first deployment, there were others full of terrible loss. We lost a US Army Infantry soldier and I lost a long-term relationship. Because of those hardships, I spent 2018 preparing for a second combat deployment and, just as importantly, bettering myself as a healthy individual.

About one month into the next deployment we were on a combat operation in a very mountainous area. My element conducted a short hault and I discussed how we would clear a set of compounds that were tactically in a disadvantageous area. The area I stood had been cleared by EOD personnel and had foot traffic around the area. I shifted my weight under my ruck, took a step, and was blown up. As my best friends and teammates treated me, I gave them medical instructions to help their care. My teammates were heroes that
day. Despite the initiation of a “troops in contact”, I didn’t die in the dirt in a far away land. Instead, they put me on a helicopter and countless other fine individuals did and continue to do their jobs of caring for me.

I am a double below the knee (BTK) amputee. The fact that my right leg is a BTK is amazing and a testament to the fantastic surgeons at Walter Reed. My testicles were also blown off, so I require testosterone replacement therapy for the rest of my life and whether or not I can have children is an unknown. I work hard every day to improve and will continue doing so. There’s no definitive date because there are too many variables, but I’ll leave the hospital some time later this year.

Lastly, the next question I’m asked is whether or not you can do anything for me. Your support is invaluable and all I could ever ask for. There are currently more of us wounded and killed, my friends included. If you should feel inclined to donate money, the Special Forces Foundation is an amazing organization. All of the money goes to us “wounded warriors” and the Gold Star families (the wives and families of personnel killed in action). I know the gentleman who runs it personally, and he’s both honorable and kind.

As for me, I’m good. My big medical issues are progressing as planned. Physical training and rehab are a part of my daily future, but I also rest and taking care of myself via meditation and journaling. I’ll take some time to let this situation percolate, but I’ll be back. There’ll be more writing, podcasts, and other ways to facilitate teaching, learning, and sharing. I’m especially interested in stories of extreme human experience and the lessons learned from them. Strength and conditioning will always be here,
but my scope of practice has grown. It’ll be just like old times, but I’ll dive into any topic that is interesting and helpful.

When I was MEDEVAC’d, I went to the Role II and received 68 units of blood. Which is a lot. Above all else, I’m grateful to be alive. I’m honored you still think of me and even more honored when you want to donate. You can do so through the Special Forces Foundation (SFF). There’s also a fundraiser being conducted on my behalf called Climbing for Casualties. My friend Matt Randle will conduct an asinine climb in Nepal and donations go to the SFF. Look for @climbingforcasualties on Instagram. Again, thank you for your interest and I look forward to getting my legs jacked, pressing over body weight, entertaining you, and learning along the way. Stronger every day.

Justin, Rip, and AC pose by the Bill Starr Memorial in WFAC around 2009.

Memorial Day 2018

We’re at the end of a long weekend where most people party, drink, and generally enjoy having Monday off. In the past, I routinely made the point that the way to memorialize service members who have died is to live as honorable a life as possible. But this year I’d like to add to that, because I’m not quite sure having parties is how everyone would celebrate the death of their own family members.

Regardless of your political view on war, the recent wars, or the military itself, this is a day to acknowledge both a sacrifice and the reason for it. Most of the time, when a young person swears to defend the Constitution of the United States of America via military service, they are doing so because they believe they are serving their country. Our “country” includes the people in it. A service member knowingly makes a decision that reduces their freedom in hopes that it benefits the country and the people who exist in it.

While it’s true a service member has chosen their path of their own volition, it doesn’t mean the sacrifices are not multiple and varied. They are told how to look, what to wear, and what to do. They are often sent on training trips away from their family, and the silly bastards in the combat arms are subjected to a litany of annoying discomfort, pain, and environmental duress. Other trips take them overseas, and at times those trips are in third world countries and war zones. And if it wasn’t enough being away from family, freedom, and the United States of America, people die. And if they don’t die, they are exposed to things physically and emotionally that will affect them throughout their lives: chemicals in the air, burn pits, horrible food, TBIs, sleeping on cots, and generally getting worn down from all of it while carrying 50 to 100 pounds of gear on a regular basis.

Children miss their parents, relationships end, and hearts break for one reason or another. And suicide rates remain high.

It’s not all shit and death, but it’s not waving flags and barbecue. Love or hate the military, my point is the people who do it believe they are doing it for you. For everyone. And themselves. And they would die for you to maintain the right to criticize it. And they do. And you don’t know their names. And that’s okay, because nobody wants a pat on the back.

So, if you use Memorial Day for drinks and parties, just take a moment to acknowledge the masochistic decision to serve the country we all enjoy. And then please get back to living honorably.

Memorial Day 2017

I typically use the same post every Memorial Day to remind American readers of their freedoms. Every year, families and friends gather to grill meat and wave flags, but getting a day off from work and drinking a beer doesn’t really do justice to those that have lost their lives in service of the United States of America.

2012-06-22_15-33-50_431

A flag from the WTC rubble in 2001.

I won’t spin tales of heroes, sacrifice, and death. I won’t ask you to thank anyone or give a donation. All I ask is that you live honorably. Most service members believe this country is worth enduring a lot of shitty situations. There’s an idea that despite our flaws, America is an amazing place to live full of righteous people who work hard, have personal responsibility, and always try to improve.

Do not let them down; live honorably. Convince the families of the fallen that their loss was worth it. Convince the service members who still toil that their effort is worth it. Take responsibility of your life and actions, respect others, and never, ever stop trying to succeed. Teach others how to do the same.

The only true memorial is to live this way, to live honorably. Everything else is an obligatory charade. This is not a day if celebration, but of remembrance. Lest we forget.

Memorial Day 2016

I typically use the same post every Memorial Day to remind American readers of their freedoms. Every year, families and friends gather to grill meat and wave flags, but getting a day off from work and drinking a beer doesn’t really do justice to those that have lost their lives in service of the United States of America.

2012-06-22_15-33-50_431

A flag from the WTC rubble in 2001.

I won’t spin tales of heroes, sacrifice, and death. I won’t ask you to thank anyone or give a donation. All I ask is that you live honorably. Most service members believe this country is worth enduring a lot of shitty situations. There’s an idea that despite our flaws, America is an amazing place to live full of righteous people who work hard, have personal responsibility, and always try to improve.

Do not let them down; live honorably. Convince the families of the fallen that their loss was worth it. Convince the service members who still toil that their effort is worth it. Take responsibility of your life and actions, respect others, and never, ever stop trying to succeed. Teach others how to do the same.

The only true memorial is to live this way, to live honorably. Everything else is an obligatory charade. This is not a day if celebration, but of remembrance. Lest we forget.

Veteran’s Day 2015

In Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the Terran Federation is a limited democracy in which full citizenship comes with a price. Earning citizenship and suffrage — the right to vote — was accomplished by two years of voluntary Federal Service. The concept that a society be made of people who have contributed to their country and government was important to Heinlein, who served in the Navy after graduating from the Naval Academy. Earning a voice in government, in Heinlein’s eyes, is better than anyone “who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37 °C.”

The idea that veterans are deeply rewarded for their sacrifice is an admirable one; something that would inspire appreciation for gained freedoms and instill a foundation of work ethic. In our society, veterans make analogous sacrifices. First, they pledge an allegiance to uphold the longstanding tradition of morals and honor of their respective country. Second, they knowingly surrender various birth-given rights and are held to a higher standard for their actions. Third, they play their specific role in an organization that provides and maintains the security of freedom for all countrymen. And fourth, they do so with meager compensation and the occasional “thank you.”

Some might say that the veteran has chosen their fate; their own volition led them into their job just as a civilian has chosen theirs. Yet the difference is that veteran made that decision knowing what was at stake. The Airman who works on jets or the Ranger who puts two rounds into an extremist consciously made a decision that subjects them to the needs of their respective branch. They chose to reduce their freedom so that you and I can under appreciate ours.

Many of you will feel noble on these holidays by publicly saying, “Thank you, troops,” but words are dust; they usually blow away with time. I won’t spin tales of heroes, sacrifice, and death. I won’t ask you to thank anyone or give a donation. All I ask is that you live honorably. Most service members believe this country is worth enduring a lot of shitty situations. There’s an idea that despite our flaws, America is an amazing place to live full of righteous people who work hard and have personal responsibility.

Do not let them down; live honorably. Convince the families of the fallen that their loss was worth it. Convince the service members who still toil that their effort is worth it. Take responsibility of your life and actions, respect others, and never, ever stop trying to succeed. Teach others how to do the same.

The only true memorial is to live this way, to live honorably. Everything else is an obligatory charade.

Thank you to current and past veterans for making the choice to serve your country at the expense of limiting the most important values of all: freedom and liberty.